It’s time to flip the sage on the stage

Rob Davidson encourages experimentation with the conference model and ‘flipping’ the usual approach

I was interested to read about the growing use of a pedagogical approach that’s being used as an alternative to the traditional model of classroom teaching – which I think could also be experimented with in the world of conference design. It’s called ‘flipped’ learning.

The traditional model of classroom education has the teacher as the central focus of lessons, disseminating information to students, who passively depend on the teacher for guidance and feedback and to control the flow of ideas in any in-class discussions. Lectures are often followed by a homework assignment.

Flipped learning turns this approach on its head (it’s sometimes defined as ‘school work at home and homework at school’). In this model, some or most of the direct teaching is delivered outside the classroom, typically using online video lessons that the students have to view in advance of the class. Classroom time is then used for discussions and collaboration.
The teacher is free to provide the students with one-on-one assistance, rather than traditional direct instruction.

More time can be spent in class on higher-order thinking skills such as problem solving, as students tackle difficult problems, work in groups and undertake research.
Can we flip conferences?

There are limitations to the traditional conference model, in which speakers use PowerPoint to deliver ideas to an audience and then answer questions. Too many such conferences are based on passive learning, with no preparation or pre-investment from participants. There is the problem of retaining participants’ attention, combined with limited recall. Critical thinking, problem solving and application are often not fully fostered, and the best interactions happen during breaks.

Could organisers flip all or part of their events so that participants receive links – in advance – to conference presentations, either in the form of PowerPoint slides or streaming video recordings of the speakers?

They would have the opportunity to review the presentations in advance and prepare themselves to attend selected sessions that offer a much more interactive experience. This could lead to a more effective form of learning and knowledge-sharing and generate many more opportunities for collaboration.

Instead of attending ‘sage on the stage’ presentations, participants would have workshop-style experiences that would support collaboration, sharing and networking of a much higher order than the traditional conferences model allows.

A quick search on Google shows that a few brave souls have already flipped the way they design their conferences, typically by sending participants video material to view in advance of the conference, and then using the sessions for more in-depth group discussions.

Of course, this depends upon participants coming to the conference prepared, having viewed the material sent to them.

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